8 Job Interview Red Flags That You Need To Watch Out For

Is your interviewer late, or asking personal questions? Why can't anyone describe the job you're applying for? Yeah, you might want to rethink that offer.

Sure, job interviews are nerve-racking--especially if it’s a role you really want.

But when you’re in the throes of printing out résumés, rehearsing answers, and making sure your interview outfit is culturally on-cue, don’t forget to observe what you can about the company, and your interviewer too.

Because there’s one little-heralded truth about job interviews: They’re a two-way street, and paying attention as you go through the process can show you a lot about what working there might really be like.

Recent college grad Nihad Peavler, 23, thought she’d found the perfect job when she heard about a role assisting a film producer on a major project. It seemed so glamorous!

Then, in the interview, her would-be boss swore like a trooper, and couldn’t get Nihad’s name right, saying it “was too ethnic.” Despite her misgivings, Peavler took the position. She lasted all of four months. And it turned out those first few clues were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“She was like the boss in The Devil Wears Prada, except not as important,” she now says, wryly.

And, if you keep your wits about you, you can determine a lot about the job you’re gunning for by reading between the lines. Of course, job number-one is to impress your interviewer and make them want you--you can always decline the offer if it doesn’t feel like a fit. But don’t forget to take stock while you’re busy knocking their socks off.

“An interview should be an employer’s best day,” says Dana Manciagli, a career expert and consultant in Seattle, “so candidates should pay close attention to anything that seems amiss. If things aren’t right at the interview, it can only go downhill from there, and you’ll likely end up looking for another job.”

Here are eight red flags to pay attention to before you sign on the dotted line.

Related: 6 Big Resume Flaws … and How to Hide Them

1. Your interviewer is very late.

“Not respecting someone’s time isn’t just rude, it’s bad for business,” says Manciagli. Sure, scheduling mishaps happen, but she points out that interviews are often scheduled with plenty of lead time, and most hiring managers should give themselves at least 15 minutes of prep before someone comes in. For your interviewer to sidle in considerably later than you agreed on, without an ounce of contrition, is a major red flag. “If they’re this rude at the interview, imagine how they would be as a manager,” she notes.

2. She badmouths the person you’d be replacing.

While it’s appropriate for your interviewer to talk about current roles in the department, or how it’s structured, be wary of any hiring manager who badmouths someone who just left the company, or the boss she currently works for.

“No hiring manager should ever speak ill about the person they are replacing. That shows poor character and judgment and also speaks poorly of the organization,” says Melissa Gentile, a recruiter in New York City.

3. The hiring manager hasn’t reviewed your résumé.

If you’re one of many candidates coming in that day, it’s entirely possible that the hiring manager may not have spent a lot of quality time with your résumé, but they also shouldn’t react as if you just dropped in from Mars.

While this realization may (rightly) give you pause, it’s also an opportunity you can use to your advantage: Manciagli suggests using your interviewer’s lack of preparation, as off-putting as it may be, to package yourself as best as possible for the position: “When they open with, ‘Tell me about yourself,’ you can control which parts of your career to highlight,” she says.

As for whether this is truly a deal-breaker, first consider who didn’t do her homework: If it’s a recruiter who meets with hundreds of candidates a day, file it away, but don’t be overly concerned. If it’s the person who would be your manager, pay closer attention and keep your eyes open for clues during the rest of the interview. She may just have been rushed that day, or it could signal a more serious issue.

4. Your would-be boss couldn’t explain the role clearly.

“If you’re having a hard time explaining the role to friends and family after an interview, that should raise some questions,” says David Lewis, a human resources consultant in Norwalk, Connecticut. “Sometimes hiring managers--especially ones who are visionary, entrepreneur types--think you’d be great at the company, but aren’t quite sure exactly what they want you to do. They’ll spend the interview talking about the company, the culture, but not exactly what you would do.”

Lewis says candidates shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and admit that the specifics of the role aren’t clear to them yet. “Sometimes people are afraid to do this, because they don’t want to rock the boat or make the hiring manager feel awkward,” he says. “But it’s important from the onset that you can clearly answer the question, ‘What will I be doing?’” Another good clarifying question: What would success look like in this role?

5. The company has high turnover, or a toxic culture.

Of course you’re going to do your homework before a job interview. Check LinkedIn to see what friends of friends you may know at a given company or organization, and read up.

When Kate Groebe, 36, was contacted about a senior role with a stellar salary at a well-known company, she considered relocating her family for the opportunity--until her husband forwarded her an in-depth and reputable article chronicling the firm’s aggressive, antagonistic work culture, promoted by the hard-driving CEO. That was one factor Groebe had overlooked while busy getting starry-eyed about the package.

Similarly, if a hiring manager mentions that they’re refilling the role for the second or third time in a short amount of time, it’s important to ask why. Lewis says a good question to pose is what the person who recently had the role was doing five years ago, or what your hiring manager’s trajectory has been in the organization. If there’s been a lot of transferring out of the department you’d be working in, proceed with caution.

RELATED: When It’s Time to Call It … Quits

6. The firm’s online reviews are bad.

Similarly, websites such as Glassdoor offer employees a place to anonymously review companies they’ve worked for. Since they are anonymous, they should be taken with a grain of salt. “A lot of these reviews can just be angry elves with an axe to grind,” Lewis says, but adds that it’s important to look for recurring themes in poor reviews.

If the reviews are recent and all seem to complain about the same thing--bad communication from management, low morale, etc.--that should carry some weight. While you should never lead with that information when you meet a recruiter or hiring manager, you can find a subtle way to ask about the company culture, or what sort of values or management techniques are embraced, during the question and answer portion of your interview.

7. Your interviewer asks personal questions.

“An interview should be objective, not emotional,” counsels Gentile, “and your interviewer shouldn’t blather on about her personal life, or probe about yours.” In general, asking personal questions--about your family, marital status, etc.--is never okay.

“Hiring managers have lots of ways to try to find out if you’re married or have kids,” says Manciagli, “but that doesn’t mean you have to volunteer any information, especially if they start telling you about their own families. They might not even have one.” Bottom line: You’re there to talk about the job, not how you spent your weekend.

8. Your interviewer checks her email during your meeting.

Yes, we live in a digital age, but that doesn’t mean that someone should be checking their phone during the time they allotted to get to know you, says Manciagli. If they’re not paying attention during your interview, chances are they won’t be all ears when you’re an employee, either. Again, consider what role this person might play in your work life.

If it’s a recruiter, you probably needn’t be overly concerned. If it’s your future supervisor, and they demonstrate other less-than-courteous tendencies, take heed.

This article originally appeared in Learnvest and was reprinted with permission.

--Pauline Millard spent the first seven years of her career as a writer and online editor at The Associated Press. She then went on to be the Online Editor at Editor & Publisher magazine. She runs the site WeddingNugget.com, a wedding style blog. See her complete work here or follow her on Twitter at @PaulineyM.

[Image: Flickr user Rutger van Waveren]

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10 Comments

  • Hillary

    I have to disagree with #3, I like to interview before I do an in-depth resume look. I may glance at the paper before, but I have found that if I see too much of the resume beforehand, I make presumptions about what I'm gong to see in the interview. On the other hand, if I look at the resume after, I may be surprised and more impressed (or more disappointed) with answers. I also agree that when I ask the "tell me about yourself and your qualifications for the position" question, I like to see what they highlight about themselves first.

  • How do you decide who to interview if you don't do a deep dive on their resume? I use the resume to manage my valuable time. The purpose of the resume is to get you to the interview.

  • Maitri

    It's not illegal for an employer to ask if you're married or have children. It's only illegal if they make a hiring decision based on your answers.

  • Chris Kelly

    I had all of these come up in my first interview in London a few years ago (They didnt have a linkedin page). I didnt take the job, obviously.

  • Elizabeth Lewis

    The worst employer experience I ever had was, as a high paid mental health professional working under a supervisor with the same professional and educational post graduate status. I was actually physically struck by my supervisor. I was so shocked, I disassociated until I got home that evening, called in and quit without notice. I knew no one would believe me, and I had no proof or witnesses who would corroborate this, so I just left. Than I got blackballed by this company for leaving without notice. Life can be incredibly unfair and cruel. This supervisor later framed someone else who got fired and blackballed too. I can see this is one of the horrible abuses contract employees endure as a result of zero rights and at will firing allowed by a Supreme Court ruling in the 80s under Ronnie Reagan, which allowed the emergence of this huge underclass of workers to enable employers to not have to pay into medical, vacation, sick leave etc.. This sad development in the further disenfranchisement of labor in the US has also backfired upon employers creating workers who feel no fealty to their employers and at worse creating almost psychopathic workers who will steal anything and abuse the employers holdings in any way they can because the attitude that "you are screwing me, so I will screw you" gets set at the onset by this obvious tactic to advantage the employer over those that provide the lifeblood and existence to any business or institutional entity. The state of labor in this country is close to a slave relationship. Eg., banks making biggest profits ever with CEOs making millions in salaries, while tellers, after taxes and all are paid 12.00$ an hour! What is wrong with this picture? Who can live on this? Workers must be entitled to a living wage. Google is one of the most egregious exploiters of contract employees around. It is their dirty little secret despite the propaganda about how well their employees are treated. But not the non-staff, underclass of labor they use as the backbone of their labor and creative forces generating billions in profit to further pamper the elite staff and feather CEOs nest.

  • Chris Kelly

    In the UK, it's much harder to fire people or 'blacklist' them in the way that it is in the US. After knowing people who would be very good in job roles, but get ignored because things similar to the issues you have described, they dont even get a chance. I've never had the opportunity to employee someone, but my experiences from the other side and seeing what others do has changed the way i will do it. Im sure there are more like me out there.

  • R

    Just wanted to share a thought on #7. This is a tricky subject overall - while it may seem like it crosses a line, it can help illuminate how one may fit, particularly in cases where the company is new or in a rather demanding situation of its employees (late nights, weekends, etc). It's not just 'how you spend your weekend' but but where you're at with your life - which can be useful information when hiring for certain roles - maybe the job travels a lot, maybe the employer needs 9-10pm daily, etc). Likewise for the potential employee, it understanding your potential boss' outside-of-work-life (even on just a high level) can give you some additional context into what the working relationship may be, particularly if there is a difference in lifestyles (kids/no-kids being a pretty large one). It's tricky subject, but one that I believe shouldn't be so immediately dismissed as not-appropriate. Work/Life balance is important and there needs to be a way to have that dialog in an interview to really establish fit.

  • It is illegal to make hiring decisions based on what you just described. You would be better off being very specific on the conditions of employment and what is expected from a potential candidate. It is none of your business if I have children. It is your business whether or not I can travel or work 9-10PM. So ask that question. The question you really want the answer to.